Monthly Archives: October 2011

On the Stock Market

So, a while back I invested some money in the stock market. Not in a mutual fund mind you but in pick a single stock and hang on type schenario. I was alive in the ninties so I have this pervasive mental image that money invested in stocks is like planting a money tree in the back yard. You put $5 in and before you know it, $57.67 has grown in its place. I still remember in my college days thinking, “Boy, if I only had some money I’d really invest in that eBay place!” I remember watching the stock tick gradually up and up and up and up and split and split and split until I was woozy with the math of how much my $10 then would be worth today. OK, it’s only $166, but still. That’s 4.5% interest! I’m sure I would have sold in 2004 when it peaked. Not…

As I sit here today looking at the returns, on one hand I’m happy. I bought in a fairly severe dip in the markets. My Walmart stock is up 11.02% in a month! Microsoft, up 6.5%. Starbucks, up 6.4% in three weeks! Great returns, right? Fuck no. The whole market, on average, was up 12%! Even my absolute best pick, Walmart, suffered worse than the Dow Jones and NASDAQ, both mindless conglomerations of companies that managed 12% gains in the period of a 30 days. God damn. That’s a lot of wasted effort to do WORSE than the average of just a bunch of companies thrown into a bucket.

Every single day I watch the markets hour by hour. One day they’re up and one day they’re down. Today my portfolio was down 1.91%. The Dow was down 2.26%, a miniscule gain. Tomorrow, I’m willing to bet that my portfolio, in obedience to the oscillating markets at large, will be up by about the same margin. This blind zombie obedience makes me regularly consider selling off my entire list of stocks just to buy some index fund. On many levels, I wonder what in the WORLD the point is. Unless I’m smart… impossibly smart and ahead of those MILLIONS of investors trying to do the same thing, I’m just gambling. If I drop $1,000 into Akorn, I might make more than the Dow or I might lose it all in a day. Who knows? I’m not sure any of it is worth the risk. Tomorrow I will sit and hit the refresh button every hour or so and watch my money go up….. (hopefully) and inevitably go down…. All based on the whims and speculations of millions of other investors who are influenced by random stories on the radio or a single internet speculation. Who can compete with that? Not me. I’m just gambling. It’s like slot machines with one-share minimum.

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Random Thoughts for Halloween 2011

As I sit here alone in my third-floor apartment on Halloween night in 2011, I realize that lately I’ve been on a renewed search for a sense of purpose. Of course that search has been blunted by as much rum as I can cram into the refrigerator but even the thick blanket of Sailor Jerry cannot completely suffocate the part of my brain that calls out for something meaningful to do with my life. As I look around the apartment (which, it should be noted, is 77 degrees today even with the windows open because of the ambient heat leaking up from my poorly-insulated neighbors) I see the evidence of many of my previous attempts to have some meaning to the world. They’re like little tombstones to the hopes of a person who only really wanted to be someone…

Between my elbows rests “The New Middle Eastern Cookbook” and yesterday saw the first-time preparation of three new recipes. Fish with Chermoula sauce was divine (p187) with the aptly named “Rice to Accompany Fish” (p 342) and Kousa Mabshoura (p 287). They were all tasty and well worth having again. They gave me a peek into the foods of other cultures and made me a more knowledgeable and efficient customer when next I venture to order food at an Iranian restaurant. The experience added to the sum total of what it is to be “Rob” but ultimately, they’re meaningless in the grand scheme.

Looking left, I see the Jared Diamond book I’ve almost finished. It goes on in much detail about the intimate practices of various species and describes how those practices relate to human practices in the bedroom. For the most part, it’s all fairly cliché and material that I’ve either concluded on my own or read in other literature. It’s all very edifying in its way and adds to the sum total of what it is to be “Rob” but ultimately, it too is meaningless.

Peering further across the room I see the book on Islam. It was very edifying and I still swear that I’ll finish its summary at some point. It will, I’m sure, be an interesting period in my life to look back on. It too adds, but ultimately it’s meaningless.

Today I worked another day at work. I slogged through the same relatively inane garbage that really does fail to challenge me in any way. My job is far too easy and despite the fact that we really do a wonderful service to our customers, that too is meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

If you add up all the pieces of a person’s life, one by one and end to end, how can you determine their actual worth? How many pieces and parts add up to a meaningful whole? On measure, no individual item that I have ever undertaken seems to add up to a hill of beans in the world. No one picture I’ve ever taken has ever inspired anyone. Nothing I’ve written has ever made a difference in anyone’s life. No line of code or documentation that I wrote in my professional life ever really mattered one damn bit in the grand scheme of the universe. Taken in this light, my life is a waste. Time ticked ploddingly past one grain of sand at a time with no one to notice or to care.

But I like to think that taken as a whole, my life has great meaning. Perhaps that funny turn of phrase that I shared in the hallway rolls around in a co-worker’s mind long after I’m gone. Maybe that smile I shared with a stranger in a crowded store turned around some part of their day. Perhaps my whole body of work, everything I’ve done over the past four decades of my life has inspired SOMEONE or made someone think or smile or love or laugh.

This is the battle that rages in my head. As I sit here by myself I think back upon all the things that I have most definitely NOT done in my life. I am no great man. I am flawed and lazy and in error and utterly a mess in many small ways and in many big ones. But at the same time I am devoted and passionate and caring and above all I really do give a damn. I hardly ever say the right thing but I am dogged and determined enough that I will try, again and again, until I find it. What I lack in skill I make up for in raw and unadulterated tenacity. I am a small and ferocious dog with almost impossibly dull teeth. It is with the balm of these words that I sooth myself from the ache of the “am nots” that roll so fluidly and effortlessly from my mind. I am not great. I am not wise. I am not powerful. But I will be there after everyone else is gone. I’m not the most fun or giddy guest at the party, but I am the one who will help you with the dishes after everyone else is gone.


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Unpopular Opinions – Dan Wheldon

Generally speaking, my fits of writing tend to begin with writing about something that is exceptionally unpopular. This particular topic is likely to earn me more heat than most but I can’t help but feel that I don’t really care very much…

Driving back from Lafayette today I heard a protracted WIBC story about Dan Weldon. They went on at length about what a shame it was that he was killed and I don’t disagree. When people die, it sucks. From everything the news reporter had to say, he was a nice guy: involved in his community, great father, great husband, all the usual stuff. That’s wonderful. More people should aspire to such a position in life. I was right on board with them until they suggested that listeners should contribute to the trust fund for his family. Excuse me? Perhaps I didn’t hear properly?

During his racing career, Dan Wheldon has earned $14,612,570. The median annual household income in Indiana is $45,424. When I think that the local radio station is suggesting that households that make 1/300th as much as Dan Wheldon send his family money it quite frankly turns my stomach. Seriously? Was Wheldon’s death a tragedy? Yes, by all means. I hate to see anyone lose their life in pursuit of their job. But for the love of all that’s good, do not send this millionaire’s family any money. If you feel the need to help someone, why not give to the many millions of families who don’t have enough money to even fulfill their basic needs.

All too often I think that in this country we confuse grief with actual need. Wheldon’s family is hurting emotionally. They lost a loving father and husband. I feel for them. However, that doesn’t mean that they need the financial outpourings of people across the country. If you feel the need to help people who are REALLY hurting, how about donating time or money to the local homeless shelter? How about helping people who really need it? There are families all around us who can’t buy food or the basic necessities of life. Wheldon’s death is a tragedy, but there are so many better ways that your money could be spent.


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